JOHANN KOK began his journey as an inventor to help African youth, then became an entrepreneur, and now a job-creator: the engineers of tomorrow thank you Johann for inventing Seebox, for creating jobs, for improving lives and most of all for inspiring other African engineers to become inventors and entrepreneurs.
Artificial Intelligence in Africa
Seebox is a game changer in the future of education in Africa. The inventor, Johann Kok, is a humble genius with a giant vision: reinvent how African schools and companies train today’s youth to be tomorrow’s engineers.
Seebox was granted $150,000 from the African Entrepreneurship Award, which allowed the young company to perfect and market its prototype. A humbly passionate entrepreneur and inventor Johann explains “this prize did more than keep our struggling company’s doors open, it also opened up a lot of connections with customers.”
Johann is a consummate entrepreneur and inventor because the journey never ends. He is now taking his invention, which began for students to love and learn engineering, beyond the home and school. He is expanding to assist with engineering careers, and engaging with Artificial Intelligence’s role in big data to measure the efficacy of the software. But what exactly is Seebox?
Seebox and an Artificially Intelligent Future
Johann’s winning Education business idea delivers 21st century electronic and mechanical engineering instruction to students using a proprietary gaming platform. Consisting of a gaming console that is compatible with computers and tablets, Seebox software utilizes educational engineering videos and playboards that allow students to apply the lessons they’ve learned. Fun and creativity are not abandoned, as gamers solve real-world and hypothetical problems!
The vision of Seebox has always remained the same: prepare students for future job markets, job markets populated by artificial intelligence. Alan Turing, the prescient 20th century father of modern computing and artificial intelligence said, “We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.”
“Seebox would absolutely not have existed” without the Award
This vision for the future was in doubt. Johann remembers the message he typed to his staff on October 12, 2015: “Stop developing Seebox. We don’t have enough money. Time to look for new jobs.” A group of creative software developers and engineers in South Africa sat with a nearly completed prototype for investors. Without the finished prototype, investors were not willing to bite.
“We won! Don’t leave! We can finish the prototype!Johann KokBut in October 2015, while the prototype was on hold and the disbanded team in despair, Johann heard his name announced in Marrakech, Morocco, by BMCE Bank of Africa: “The Winner of the Education Category, for the most scalable, sustainable and socially impactful business, for $150,000 goes to Johann Kok and Seebox!” With this announcement, Johann accepted the prize, sat down in a daze, and quickly texted his South African team: “We won! Don’t leave! We can finish the prototype!”
Impact of the Mentoring: From Geek to Business Guru
How did Johann – a humble yet brilliant engineer who is more comfortable inventing than pitching – get to Marrakech, Morocco? In the spring of 2015, Johann’s business manager and wife Mardine applied to the African Entrepreneurship Award. Mardine remembers the online application: “It was very different than other prizes. It gave tips – both on how to fill out the form, what they were looking for – and advice that helped us improve our business idea. Nobody had helped us. Nobody had ever mentored online.”
After the first round, Johann and Mardine received a mentor’s feedback:
“A top-notch submission! It’s impressive to learn of this innovative concept that will not merely serve an education purpose and fill a vacuum in Africa, but elsewhere around the globe too.”Regional Mentor from SADC
Round 1 mentors believed that his idea had potential, even though the final product was incomplete. Johann says that, “When you are just barely surviving, it’s good to get feedback like that.”
After being selected as Most Needed in Southern Africa, Johann and Mardine then had to think about Seebox’s competition, marketing and how to scale this invention across Africa. For two months, they received free, online mentoring from businessmen across Africa, one who told him:
“Excellent idea, promoting the need for engineering education. Investors will want to see the prototype and field trial results. Consider how to demonstrate this using viral, social media options…Ensure they tell your story and adopt early.”Pan-African Mentor
Johann and Mardine improved their idea and were selected as Most Likely to Succeed across Africa. Then, they had to put together a sustainable financial and leadership plan. At this point, global entrepreneurs offered practical leadership advice, specific to Johann and Seebox. For example:
“As a tech guru – your suggestion to bring in a business-experienced CEO is wise and key to scale the business.”Global Mentor
After several back and forth conversations, Johann and Mardine discovered bootstrapping and how to create a prototype with less cost and quick impact by focusing on just a few client groups. By working with global mentors and carefully listening to their advice, the Seebox proposal was chosen as a Most Sustainable Business Idea and Johann was invited to Morocco to pitch to a Presidential Jury for part of $1M USD.
They didn’t act like a Jury. They acted like interested friends! They were Africans…Johann KokJohann remembers coming to Morocco: “I am not a public speaker. I am a geek. So, I get very nervous in front of people. I forget what I want to say. I am just an engineer. I may be an inventor, but I’m not a slick presenter. Put me in front of a circuit board any day, but not a board of people. Before I had to pitch, they gave me a personal coach and we worked for three long days practicing how I would explain this AI invention. He was so patient – but I know he was worried that I would really mess it up! I was so nervous that they let me practice with some internal bankers, a Mock Jury, before meeting the Final Presidential Jury.
They really encouraged me, so I was able to finish my sentences and only forgot my words a few times. And then I was escorted into the Presidential Jury. I was shaking when I went in front of these 6 people. But they didn’t act like a Jury. They acted like interested friends! They were Africans, one was a gamer, one was a software developer, and one was a professor. So, they wanted to touch Seebox and try it out. Pretty soon, I was just talking to them like I talked to my professors, my developers, sharing my passion and vision for helping African youth fall in love with engineering and learn the basics through a game.”